In 2013, Disney-owned Marvel Comics, publishers of popular superhero franchises such as X-Men, Spiderman, and The Incredible Hulk, manufactured and sold boys and girls t-shirts for the Avengers comic franchise. The shirt for boys is blue and has an image of Iron Man and the words “Be a Hero” printed across the chest. The shirt for girls is red and has a group of Avengers – The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man – with the words “I need a hero” printed on it.
What messages about gender are being communicated by these shirts?
At what age do we start learning about gender roles and expectations, such as who is or is not a superhero? Where and from whom do we learn these messages? What happens when we behave or express ourselves in ways that do not conform to these social norms? How are the consequences different depending on your gender?
Why is it important for girls to be able to view themselves as heroes, as opposed to only striving to be rescued by, married to, sleeping with, or otherwise partnered with a hero? How does this relate to the representation of girls and women frequently seen in movies, television, and other popular culture? Who are the heroes and rescuers of popular stories? Who is being rescued?
What do you think was the intention of the creators of these shirts? Whose responsibility is it to avoid perpetuating sexist messages through everyday products like t-shirts? What roles do companies like Disney and Marvel Comics have in choosing to create or sell merchandise such as this?